Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Apropos of Nothing...

I mostly missed Battlestar Galactica when it was on the Sci-Fi channel, only beginning to watch it half-way through the last season. I'm now watching the entire series, one episode a day, as I "exercise" on my stationary bike. (Insert plug for Netflix, which I joined specifically to rent the series.) What a great show -- smart, literate, well-written, well-acted.

Absolutely nothing going on with my queries -- no rejections, no nothing. It's The Big Chill in my in-box.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

When 7 X 6 = 45

In about a week's time, it'll be six weeks since I sent my first batch of queries off into the cyberverse. Because I did so on a Friday evening, I'm actually going to consider six weeks to be 45 days instead of 42. At that point, I'm going to rack up a number of rejections for the ol' stats. I've pretty much written off all those first 18 queries anyway (except, of course, the one that garnered the request for the partial). I guess I won't count as rejections those who insist they respond good or bad, but in my head they're already rejections. I still have an untouched list of 100 or so agencies -- plus any number of different agents at the agencies I've already hit up. So, in short, it's easy to see how I could be at this for a couple of years yet.

Yikes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Synopsis Sucks

There, I said it. My synopsis sucks. It bites. It's more useless than George Bush's brain.

I'm content with my novel, though filled with self-doubt, as any decent writer ought to be. I'm happy with my query letter, too, though whether the book idea it explicates is attractive to agents is another matter.

But my synopsis... After cutting and cutting and tweaking and tweaking it still comes in at more than 2 1/2 double-spaced pages. If I cut more, there goes more of the critical aspects of the protagonist's backstory, there goes more of critical aspects of the plot, there goes the twist ending....

I'm going to take another whack at it today, starting fresh with a blank sheet of paper, and see how it goes. I'm not too thrilled at the prospect and not too hopeful that the result will be worth it. But it's either that or go out and take the chain-saw to those old tree stumps, so...

UPDATE: Well, I chopped half a page off. From the comments, and some reading I did on the internets, there doesn't seem to be any great consensus on how long the synopsis ought to be, or what it's worth. The agents interviewed in this Poets and Writers piece mostly disdained synopses, saying they never read 'em. So, fuck it. Mine stays as it is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Day, Another Milestone

Received my first rejection from a snail-mail query today. After my current wait-and-see hiatus runs its course, assuming, mirabile dictu, I don't receive The Call in the interim, I think I will send out more snail-mail submissions. For one thing, close to half of the agencies on the humongous list of possible targets I've compiled accept only snail-mail queries while up to now only 10% of my queries have gone through the mail.

More than that, though. There was something more genteel, quainter, about the rejection-in-the-mail than its electronic counterpart. Easier to take, less impactful (to use a neologism I dislike), less angst-inducing than that unread e-mail sitting in the inbox, staring silently at you like a snarling cougar about to spring. Old-fashioned in a good way, like those ice-cream parlors from a bygone era they have at Disneyland/world.

Plus, the little form rejection was printed on a nice card, which makes a helluva nicer collectible than a printed-out e-mail.

Rationality - Overrated?

Some recent "commentary" got me thinking about a couple of things. One, what a tragedy it must be to be born humor- and irony-challenged. Two, how rationality and irrationality can inhabit the same mind at the same time.

Fundamentally, I'm a very rational person. Scored a perfect 800 on the analytical part of the GRE. Spent many years working for a Very Important Organization, regularly being promoted to positions of greater responsibility, etc. Always balance the checkbook. That sort of thing.

So of course the rational part of me, which is usually dominant, knows that finding a literary agent is likely to be a long slog that may, in the end, prove futile. But something in the process brings out the irrational side of me -- which is, I think, closely connected to the creative side. How can you write fiction, after all, if part of you is not just a bit irrational?


So, the impatience with not hearing back from agents sooner. The frustration with the query system (even though the rational side of me already acknowledged how, from the agent's perspective, it makes perfect sense). I think the immediacy of e-mail contributes to this irrational take on things. We send our query -- the lorry-load of our creativity, aspirations, fears -- off into cyberspace and it's delivered in a nanosecond, and then...and then...and then... In contrast, we expect snail mail to take time.

There were times when I worked for the VIO that I labored long and hard on a thoughtful, analytical Very Important Paper, sent it up the chain of command, and then...and then...and then...

The difference was that I had worked long enough for the VIO to know the multiple layers of black holes that existed within it into which my paper might well have disappeared. While I know on an intellectual level that the process of seeking an agent is lengthy and full of its own black holes, I haven't experienced it long enough yet to prevent the irrational part of me from hoping that I might get some kind of real answer to my aspirations before my kids are in college.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Query Letter, New Queries

So I came up with QueryLetter 3.0, which reversed a couple things and gives away more of the plot. And so, to test it out, I fired off four more e-queries this morning. Which also brings my total queries to a nice, round figure -- 50!

Let the insanity continue...

UPDATE: went to the grocery store, came back to find that 3.0 had already garnered its first rejection! That was quick.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One Month In...

One month into the quest, I've learned a few lessons: (1) this isn't going to be fast; (2) this isn't going to be easy; (3) I'd almost rather get a rejection in the in-box than have nothing there; (4) I probably should have sat on my initial query letter for a couple weeks and/or had some friends critique it before sending it out; (5) it's almost inevitable that you'll still be tinkering with your ms. even after you've said "No more" for the fifth or sixth time; (6) agents expect writers to be too attuned to their system; (7) too many writers are completely clueless about what agents want; (8) the Absolute Write Water Cooler can be addicting; (9) half the people in America with computers are writing a novel; and (10) a lot of the folks in (9) can't write their way out of a paper bag, if their comments in (8) are any clue.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stroking the Agent's Ego

I read a bunch of "Advice from Agents" in the Guide to Literary Agents blog yesterday and was struck by the number who said make your query more effective by showing you've "done your research" by mentioning you're querying them because you love some of their clients, mentioning them by name.

This strikes me as awfully needy. Yes, do enough research so you don't send your paranormal fantasy to someone who only handles non-fiction or your thriller to someone who only handles kids' books. Don't waste the agent's time, in other words. But, do we really have to assure them we love their clients, most of whom we've probably never heard of?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Waiting for Godagent...

Well, I've hit the four-week mark on the original bunch of 18 queries I sent out 8/21, of which 10 have garnered no response. Only three of those 10 promise an answer by now -- one in all cases, and two only if positive. I guess I'm not ready to officially write those two off just yet since we all know deadlines in the agenting world are, uh, flexible. With some 28 queries still out there, though, I feel I shouldn't query anymore for awhile. Too bad, because I've sort of grown accustomed to firing one or two or three off each week.

Now all I can do is sit and wait. It's pretty awful.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just Got the Crap Scared Out of Me!

Remember that request for a full I got last week? There was an e-mail from that agency in my in-box. I thought, "Oh, fuck, they've passed on it already!" (Getting two other rejections in the last two days didn't help.)

Turns out the assistant was just thanking me for sending it.

Whew.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

911 Writers Block

No brilliant insights today -- or any insights, frankly -- and nothing in the in-box but Arctic emptiness. I did, however, stumble across this: 911 Writers Block . Very funny and worth a look! (Be sure to turn on the sound.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Note on Stats

Some of my readers, all eight of them -- wait, I forgot the guy who posts as "Anonymous" -- all nine of them, may have noticed a change in the statistics under "The Writer Abides." I decided that the request I got to see the first chapter -- the one that led to the previous posts on the First Five Fucking Pages -- didn't really constitute a partial request. One chapter's not enough to consider a partial, am I right? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

(By the way, I knew Ben Stein way back in 1970-71, when he was a resident lecturer at Porter College, UC Santa Cruz. He was just as much a pretentious jerk then as he is now, but he had a mass of curly, black hair that was even longer than mine. And mine was pretty long in those days.)

(If you don't know who Ben Stein is, he's the guy famous for being the boringest-teacher-in-the-world in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.)

To Query More, or Not to Query More: Part II

I'm coming up on four weeks soon for some of the queries I sent 8/21 without hearing a peep. Should I take at face value the agency that says they respond "within two weeks" but only if positive and move them into the reject space? Or should I allow some slack time before deciding it's over between them and me?

How many queries are too many? Is there a downside to sending out another five, ten -- hundred? How many can I have out there at any time? 25? 30? 50? I can't really see how it could hurt to send out more, unless I think my query letter sucks (I don't know what I'd do differently with it).

So I'm going to be conservative and send out just five more. Should be some rejections rolling in any day now, right?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Looking for a Literary Agent Is Like Going on a Blind Date

I realized today that the writer-agent dance is a lot like being single and looking for a mate and in particular, like going on a blind date. Both agent and writer presumably want to find someone who makes their heart go pitter-pat, the writer so he can get published, the agent so she can make a living.

The query is like the first, blind date. Most of the time it's not going to work out. You realize you have nothing in common. You don't set her heart aflame. Doesn't mean you're a bad person (i.e., your book idea sucks) or that your dating skills (query letter) are inept. You just weren't meant for each other, for any number of reasons.

A partial is sort of like a second date. Maybe there was something she saw in you on that first date that intrigued her enough to go out with you a second time. But maybe she isn't bowled over on the second date, even if she wants to be. She realizes you're a smoker, or a Republican, or a vegan or you just don't get her juices going (your partial didn't work for her). So she turns you down for the third date (the full ms.).

The third date is kind of make-or-break. When you get to the front door, either she invites you in and you sleep together (representation) or she says something like, "I'll call you some day," ("I just didn't fall in love with your novel, and that's what you need from an agent") and you go your separate ways, each to his or her next blind date.

The only difference is that the writer in this scenario is so desperate that he or she will start up a relationship with just about anybody...

Friday, September 11, 2009

How Long Is Too Long?

No, you dirty-minded scum, I didn't mean that. I'm talking book length here. Sheesh.

When I started out, I figured my book had to be 100,000 words. That's about the average novel, right? When the first draft came in at 77,000 words, I thought, jeez, how am I gonna come up with another 23,000 words? The second draft came in at 90,000 and I thought, whew, that's close enough.

Then I discovered that 90,000 words as counted by computer is not 90,000 words in the world of publishing. They figure word-count by counting pages, assuming 250 words per page. So my manuscript, which ran to something like 414 pages (if done in 12-pt Courier) was actually, in publishing-land, 103.500 words! Like magic. Then I discovered that 100,000 words (or, "words") is actually maybe too long for a novel, especially one written by a first-timer. That 70,000 words, which seems awful short to me, is actually OK, 80,000 better. 100,000 is OK but pushing it. Much more than that and you're in big trouble. (I think it also depends on the genre.)

Confusing. I'm jabbering on about this because I did a quick "fix" to the "B. problem," as I like to call it (see previous post) -- basically threw in another suspect (called him Benny Stencil in an homage to Benny Profane and Herbert Stencil from Pynchon's V., which I happen to be re-reading at the moment). Another red herring, if you will. And it wound up taking the ms. from 89,000 words (I did some cutting on the third draft) to 92,500. As the computer counts. I do the ms. in 12-pt New Times Roman now because it looks nicer and only prints out to about 365 pages. And I've printed it out a lot.

So now of course I'm worried that it's too long. That's if I decide to keep the "fix." I have no idea what those 92,500 words would turn out to be in publishing-land "words."

As I said before, I need that agent/editor to tell me what to cut, add, modify, twist, elasticate (is that a word) or demagnetize....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yoohoo! And, Oh, Crap

A request for the full manuscript today! Yoohoo!

But, my friend B. thinks my protagonist is a bit slow and partially guessed pretty early an important element around which the plot revolves. This drives me nuts. My big beta readers, my dad and friend N., loved the book and didn't think the protagonist was dumb. But B. wasn't the first to say what he said.

Hmm. Fucking conundrum. I've been depressed all morning because of what B. said (though also thinking and coming up with ways of fixing it)...and then I get super-undepressed because a serious agency wants to see the whole thing...and then sort of depressed, thinking, but maybe I should "fix" this first...but then, do I really need to "fix" it and...

Oh, fuck.

I Can't Get Me No Satisfaction

(Play the Devo version in your head.)

Garrgh. Two more rejections in the past 24 hours, both done pretty quickly. As I pass the 3-week mark and haven't heard from those agencies who promise no response if they pass, I have to wonder if that means another dozen rejections already have fallen, wraith-like and invisible, into the rejection hamper. Like every writer I exclaim to myself, "For cripe's sake, if you would just get past the fucking query and read the book..."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Non-Responders: Be Ashamed, Very Ashamed!

Had nothing better to do this morning, so I did a little cataloguing of the response times promised by those agencies I've e-queried (34 -- includes online forms). I assume the snail-mail queries will all get some kind of response, since all were accompanied by an SASE. Of the 34, only 13 promised to respond in all cases, most in 4-6 weeks. (A couple said "as soon as possible" or something similar.) Fourteen agencies said they respond only if they want to see more, most in 3-6 weeks. Six had no info on their websites whether they respond or not and one said they couldn't "guarantee" a response, which I probably ought to toss in with the non-responders.

Now, I really think there's no excuse for this. Donald Maass agent Cameron McClure discussed on her blog yesterday why she once didn't respond if she were negative -- because half the time she'd get an e-mail back arguing with her and that was a waste of her time. That's fair enough. I don't think agents should have to respond to responses to their responses to queries. But it seems to me the solutions are simple enough. One, you can use, as some agencies do, a "submissions" address for all queries and only give out the agent's real e-mail address if asking to see more of the book. Two, the agent can use two e-mail addresses, one for queries (e.g., query.[agent]@[agency].com) and one "real" address (a lot do this anyway). In either case, all you have to do is ignore or delete anything that comes in as "RE: RE: [whatever]."

Some agencies claim the volume of queries (admittedly huge) means they just don't have time to say "no." Sorry, that doesn't fly. Even if you're cutting and pasting a form rejection, it only takes a few seconds to say no. Agencies with serious IT departments could easily set up a macro -- for a form rejection, just hit "crtl - A" or whatever. The AAR could put a macro on a disc for all those boutique agencies that can't afford a lot of IT services.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another Day, Another Query

What the hell, filled out the Levine-Greenberg online form. Good thing about it -- you don't have to pick an agent, and you get to send 50 pages of your ms. That gives me 25 unresponded-to queries out there, plus the one partial. Enuf for the moment.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Twelve Drafts Are Enuf - For Now

I had to laugh the other day when I read on an agent's website -- I think it was Ethan Ellenberg, by all accounts a crackerjack agent that any writer would be lucky to have -- that the prospective author should be sure to have done at least "three drafts" before submitting his ms.

Three drafts!

I have been through this mofo so many times I've lost count. I think it's at least twelve. Even on the twelfth run-through I found two typos -- "going" instead of "go" and "ext" instead of "exit" -- and a few other things I wanted to change a bit.

But I am done now. I've rewritten chapter one three or four times in the last week so it's more "First Five Pages"-worthy. If there's a typo left anywhere in the ms. I'll never find it.

In a way it's a relief, but it also means I've got nothing left to do, writing-wise, except look at the e-mail in-box and see if I've penetrated the barbed-wire barrier that surrounds agent world far enough to get someone to ask to see my book.

Or start on that second novel. You know, the one for which I have no ideas...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

To Query More or Not to Query More

I decided earlier that I would try to keep 25 queries out there at all times. So each time a rejection arrived, I'd send out another query. Now, I'm not so sure. Should I wait and see a bit? Maybe my query letter's not working. Should I rewrite it? I'm pretty happy with it and not sure how I'd redo it. But if I wait, am I just dragging out this interminable process even further? Is the problem that I'm not reaching the right agents? The solution to that is a big blitz of queries.

But...

These thoughts are prompted by two more rejections that were in the in-box. I have to hand it to Laney Katz Becker of Folio. I queried her last evening and she was in with her "no" this morning. Considering I'm on the West Coast and she's on the East, that's a remarkably fast turnaround. I don't understand why, if she can do it, others can't. The queries that get no response are the worst -- am I just waiting, or have they already rejected me (not me, the query!) and I just don't know it yet?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Quick Thought on the Process

First, thanks to JmDiaz and Abby for commenting. I have two followers now. At least someone is reading what I write! And Abby -- Fox Glove sounds great. Did you design that cover by yourself?

To some extent, this horrible, degrading process is useful. I've tinkered with chapter one now, thanks to the commentary I received (see below), and it's probably better for it -- though maybe only marginally so. And getting a few rejections made me tinker some more with my query language, and it's probably better for it -- though maybe only marginally so.

At some point, of course, tinkering reaches a point of diminishing returns. I think I've reached that point. Substantively nothing in my novel is going to change until it gets in the hands of an agent or editor who cares about it.

It was nice to hear from another friend who read the ms. that she thought it was a real "page-turner." And she only had the second draft.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The First Five Fucking Pages II

So I'm tinkering with chapter one. I considered, briefly, looking for some entirely different way to get into the book, but don't see how that would be gripping. I'd have to make chapter one chapter two then, anyway. And, from standpoint of the soul of the opus, the action in chapter one is what sets off the entire story, not just the action-plot, but the personal journey of the protagonist as well.

So, tinkering. What I've done is to try to provide some extra oomph by giving a hint of what happens in the final chapter, when Our Hero, in jeopardy, faces a difficult choice, to provide a clear reference to Our Hero's previous life, which has brought him to the current time and place, and to give evidence of his inner turmoil.

The theory being that adding these elements will pique the interest of the reading agent and/or editor enough that they will want to read further.

Will it work? Who knows? We shall see.

Orcas Rule, Agents Suck

No, agents, you don't really suck. That was just an attention-grabbing headline (see posts on the First Five pages, above and below).

Took the kids camping for a couple of days with a whale-watching excursion tacked on. Saw four transient orcas just off Vancouver Island. The big male was flapping his pectoral fins and smacking his fluke. It was magnificent. It was a long ride out there and back from Anacortes, WA, but well worth it. And it got me away from the computer and especially e-mail for a couple of days -- ah, the bliss.

Two rejections awaited me when I got home, making nine altogether. Still, my query is running 20% at prodding requests for a partial, so that's not so bad. I think. Of course, a few of the agents I've queried are notorious non-responders, so not hearing from them may mean they've rejected me already but I just don't know about it yet. What a goofy biz.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The First Five Fucking Pages

The very nice agent who gave me feedback on my first chapter thought it was interesting and well-written enough but not unique enough to grab an editor's attention in a tough publishing market.

This is the Principle of the First Five Pages at work -- grab the reader's attention right off, show the protagonist's main problem, set the tone, yadda yadda.

Now, I get the First Five principle, I do. But, still... If you cram the whole novel in the first five pages, why are you going to read the rest of it? This is tough if, like me, you are dribbling and drabbling out both the action and the protagonist's backstory so the tension builds towards a climax at the end.

Like the query letter, the First Five principle seemingly reduces writing to an artificial, commercially driven construct.

Then again, if I knew exactly how to rewrite the damn first chapter I'd do it.